“I’m sure you will. You look like the lass who’ll finally finish off ol’ King Croak”, you say to the young raven-haired lady warrior heading for the door. A pity, that one. Once gone, you make the same silent gesture to your assistant cleaning off some tables that you’ve done countless times before. It simply meant, ‘wait 10 minutes, then clean out her room. She won’t be coming back.’
It seems no matter what, they continue to come. Adventurers, champions, whatever they prefer to be called. You never had that inclination; leaving behind family, seeking danger, all on the chance for glory and riches? Feh. Not that you’ve done done that badly for yourself in this town the last couple years, clearly. Folks were always coming and going, and there was never a shortage of patrons…
You barely have time to tidy up the main room for the evening meals when another visitor arrives at the door. He too was young. Too young. He carried a small birch staff that screamed ‘fresh out of the Arcane Sanctum’. Part of you wanted to implore him to go back there, but it never worked. Not with their kind.
“Greetings innkeeper! I am Antor Mamfred, and I’m here to end the plight of this region. Tomorrow I intend to venture into the caves just outside of your town and destroy its vile denizen. Might you have a room available?”
You smile and raise your hands. “Why, as a matter of fact good mage, we will have vacancy momentarily! As to your quest, I’m sure you will. You look like the lad who’ll finally finish off ol’ King Croak…”
Players are a bunch of different classic-style monster villains who want to gain the infamy of becoming the meanest, nastiest monster around. Players do this by building enticing and ever more dangerous dungeons, as heroes from the nearby town will routinely try to come and slay the players for their own fame. That cannot be allowed to happen. It is up to the players to lure these heroes to their doom while hampering the efforts of the other dungeon bosses, all to prove who the baddest bad guy around really is.
Boss Monster is a card game designed in the style of classic 8-bit video games, and as a card game, there is minimal setup involved. Each player receives one Boss character, which will be their dastardly character for the game.
The remaining cards are made up of three decks: The Room Deck, the Spell Deck, and the Heroes Deck. Room cards expand or upgrade a player’s dungeon. Spell cards are special one-time use cards that can be played at certain times during a round. Hero and Epic Hero cards make up the puny do-gooders attempting to slay the Bosses, and the number of heroes used is dependent on the number of players.
Each player starts the game with a combination of up to five Room and/or up two Spell cards in their starting hand.
Prior to starting the first round, each player chooses a Room card in their hand and plays it to begin their dungeon. Rooms contain a number of characteristics including whether it is a Monster or Trap room, if it is Advanced or not (it can only be played on existing rooms), how much damage it deals to heroes, and the type of Treasure it contains. Rooms also have abilities that either trigger under certain conditions, or they must be activated by the player.
Boss Monster is played out in a series of fairly short rounds that are broken into five phases, though most activity takes place in just two. It is not a Simultaneous Action game, but many aspects of game play do happen together. If multiple spells or effects attempt to happen at the same time, they resolve by starting with the Boss with the highest listed XP and proceeding numerically.
At the beginning of the round, each player draws a Room card, and a number of Hero cards are revealed equal to the number of players. Then, in the Build phase, each player has the option to build or modify a room in their dungeon. Dungeons can have a maximum of five rooms. Players may choose a Room card to play and put it face-down in their dungeon. At this point certain card abilities and Spell cards may be used.
Once any of those are resolved, Rooms are revealed simultaneously. Next, the revealed heroes move to the dungeon that contains the most types of treasure that they seek. (For example, Mages head for the dungeon with the most Mage treasure.) If there is a tie amongst dungeons, the hero stays “in town” and will try again the following round.
Players proceed to the Adventure phase, where each dungeon resolves the fates of the heroes at their entrance. Starting with Mr. Highest XP Boss, heroes proceed one at a time. Almost all Rooms deal damage to the hero when entering. If the hero survives the room, they move to the next, and so on; they proceed until they die or deal damage to the Boss. If a hero dies, they are turned face-down and are claimed for their stated Soul amount (one for normal heroes, two for epic heroes). If a hero manages to hurt a Boss, it suffers the stated Wound amount (again, one for normal heroes, two for epic). Certain spells and abilities may also be played during the Adventure phase. Once all heroes for the player have been resolved, the next player resolves the fate of their heroes, and so on. When all players have done this, the turn ends and a new round begins. At this point, however, if a player’s Boss has accumulated five or more Wounds, they are eliminated. Because they’re dead. On the other hand, if they have accumulated ten or more Souls, they have proven to be the Ultimate Boss Monster and claims victory over their inferior brethren.
Undoubtedly, the thing that you first notice about Boss Monster is the artwork. This game strives very hard to instill upon you the flavor of an 8-bit dungeon crawler. And it certainly succeeds.
It would be one thing to simply have some generic 8-bit scrawling on the cards, a cartridge-like box, and a rule book that looks like it belonged to an NES game. Yet it’s apparent that a lot of effort went into both the pictures and characters depicted. Whether homage or a parody, there is an incredibly wide swath of alluded references in the artwork and descriptions. Ranging from Castlevania to Kid Icarus to Mega Man to Metroid, to dozens of others, there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to the game’s inspiration peppered throughout the game’s visuals.
They easily could have stopped there – but they didn’t. Instead, those wise brothers of Brotherwise Games doubled down and expanded the references beyond merely that of video gaming to include other geek-friendly references. This extra gesture ensures that people less familiar with classic video games can still appreciate the craziness of Boss Monster’s theme without feeling left out. They include references to D&D, Magic: the Gathering, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones – there’s even a tip to The Goonies. The level of involvement to generate such allusions had to be extensive, and, considering it is done entirely for flavor purposes, helps underpin the game’s worth.
That all said, it is not a guarantee that an Immersionist will love the game by default. There is little world-building beyond your dungeon walls, and aside from your Boss character leveling up once per game, there aren’t any inherent roleplaying aspects to the game. If they like the theme, it’ll likely be warmly received. But if they don’t, it may not be something they’ll latch on to in the long-term.
Looking Under the Cloak Hood
Plenty of games look nice on the surface but fall apart on closer inspection. We’re happy to report that Boss Monster holds up just as well on a substantive level as it does on its artwork. Boss Monster at its core is a pretty simple game, which upon initial inspection of its 25-page rulebook might having people thinking otherwise. The rules are lengthy only because of the level of detail taken to lay out every facet of the game, including examples, pictures, a full glossary, and an FAQ.
In actuality, the game can be explained in less than five minutes, which is reassuring considering normal playthroughs are only around a half hour. It’s simple enough of a concept, in fact, that Socializers may even find the game palatable. It would be on the upper end of acceptable levels for them, though.
That isn’t to say that the game is devoid of decision-making moves. Indeed, one of the great aspects to Boss Monster is that while the rules are simple, there is still a decent amount of strategy for game of its caliber. It is, at heart, a race to be the first one to acquire ten Souls. You want to steer the heroes to their well-deserved demise in your dungeon instead of another player’s, and you have an active hand in achieving that through use of which Room cards to play in your dungeon and when to time using your spells and room abilities.
Whether using a spell to stifle another player’s chances at victory, or speeding up your own, the ball is at least partially in your court. (It’ll likely also be a spiked ball that swings from the ceiling.) This should appease both Tacticians, who may worry about a lack of controlled decisions, and Strikers, who could be concerned that the game is too random for them not to have a direct impact in achieving victory.
Yet, almost paradoxically, there’s still enough odd unexpected dungeon-themed behavior that Daredevils will be amused as well. However, like Immersionists, their long-term interest may in question.
Interestingly, all these facts don’t push Boss Monster into conflict-drive game territory in the normal sense either. You are able to affect what the other Bosses are doing here and there, but the game is largely about building and maximizing the deadliness of your abode and collecting the Souls of the fallen. It’s on the lighter side of what Architects seek out in their games, but there still should be enough to satisfy them as well.
Boss Monster is a game that makes you want to root for the bad guys – so long as you come out on top. It’s a great little homage to 8-bit nostalgia, video games, and geek culture in general. What makes it notable is that in addition to its flavor, it’s also a decently designed game with solid structure. It evokes much of the classic feel of classic video games, except you get to appreciate it as the villain. It’ll bring back memories of the many, many times they thwarted your attempts at victory, and now you get to experience the same feeling they did. Boss Monster is light, extremely portable, fairly quick, and easier to play than first appears, making it a decent choice as a filler game on the go. If you’re looking to make your own lair but want to be extremely frugal in doing so, Boss Monster may be one way to go.
Boss Monster is a product of Brotherwise Games.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 3.5
Physical Quality: 3
Overall Score: 4